Worcester Schools’ Economic Impact Gauged At $186M

SNOW HILL — Every dollar spent on Worcester County Public Schools brings more than double that back to the county at large, according to a new study by Salisbury University.

“Our study shows that the economic impact that Worcester County Public Schools has on Worcester County is $186 million,” said Dr. Memo Diriker, the founding director of Salisbury University’s Business, Economic, and Community Outreach Network (BEACON).  “This total is two-and-a-half times Worcester County’s investment of $71 million to the school system’s FY 2011 operating budget.  In addition, the county gets a top-performing school system that yields a variety of measurable benefits for its citizens.”

The ratio is one of the highest in the state, said Diriker, who presented the data to the Worcester County Board of Education Tuesday. Diriker also pointed out that education is one of the largest “businesses” on the Eastern Shore, being responsible for 17,878 jobs and about $1.5 billion a year. That’s comparable to the poultry industry, which is responsible for about $2 billion a year and is widely regarded as the biggest business on the shore.

The school board was appreciative of the good news from BEACON.

“As educators, we inherently believe that schools matter – not only for our students, but also for the economic health of our communities,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes. “It is powerful to be able to couple that belief with quantifiable evidence that affirms that schools have a significant and positive economic impact.”

Diriker explained that Worcester is relatively unique in that there is minimal “leakage” of money through the school system, meaning the majority of dollars spent on education in Worcester stay in Worcester, as opposed to other counties like Cecil, where a much smaller percentage of money is retained.

“When we say that dollars spent on education are dollars wisely invested, we can now quantify this fact,” said Andes.  “Very few investments yield annual returns that are well over two times the amount of the investment!”

The analysis conducted by BEACON presented several points of interest and facts that Diriker believed the board should be aware of.

The first was that a “preponderance of statistical evidence” links the quality of public K-12 education with property value in the effected neighborhoods. The better the quality of education, the higher the property value, claimed the study, which noted that a 10 percent fall in standardized test scores leads to a 2-10 percent “reduction in aggregate home values in the long run.”

Additionally, a 10-percent increase in the student-to-teacher ratio would yield lower standardized test scores and a 1-2-percent drop in high school graduation rates, according to BEACON.

After everything was factored in, BEACON made the determination that it would be less harmful for Worcester to increase revenue, most likely with a raise in taxes, than it would be to cut funding to education. Andes recognized that residents without children are generally more skittish about taxes being raised to fund education, but emphasized the results of BEACON’s research as proof that money being directed at schools helps more than just the students and provides a boost to all aspects of the community, especially in Worcester.

“Parents can easily communicate the positive impact that our schools have on their children and families,” said Andes.  “This analysis helps community members who do not have children in the school system to appreciate the added value – in real dollars – that great schools have on them and their communities.”